As spring approaches, all anyone can talk about is the fete at the Grand Palace. The Grisha Summoners are supposed to put on a demonstration, though Genya warns Alina to not call it “performing,” as the Darkling thinks the whole thing is a waste of time. Alina agrees; Ravka has been at war for a century, so the party seems frivolous. Nevertheless, she’s excited. Baghra begins accusing Alina of dreaming of her “dark prince” when Alina loses focus, and annoyingly, Baghra is usually right. But Alina keeps it a secret that the Darkling kissed her and tells herself he probably kissed lots of girls. She also feels worse and worse about herself, as she knows she’s not strong enough to destroy the Fold. To make things worse, the Apparat is everywhere. Alina struggles to avoid him.
Despite Alina’s genuine excitement, she also can’t ignore the fact that parties like this seem to be part of why Ravka’s poor are so poor—money goes to putting on parties rather than feeding hungry people. The way Alina describes her difficulty focusing and worsening self-esteem suggests that the Darkling’s kiss is a dangerous, unwanted distraction. She’s too busy worrying about him— and about what he might think—to focus on what she wants or on her education.
There are no classes on the day of the fete, but Alina goes to train with Botkin anyway. She then has a hurried dinner and a bath. To Alina’s surprise, she’s excited—she wouldn’t have been a month ago. But she’s also worried, as her new silk kefta hasn’t arrived yet. Fortunately, Genya waltzes in, gorgeous as ever, and offers to do Alina’s hair. Genya explains that the Queen will ultimately go to the fete, but for now, she’s pretending to be too sick to go because she wants people to fawn over her. This is why Genya is able to do Alina’s hair now.
Having Genya around to do her hair makes Alina feel more secure, and perhaps even like she’ll stand out: Genya’s whole gift revolves around making people beautiful, so Alina may come out of this better dressed than her peers. Genya reveals that court drama is still alive and well; everyone, she insists, wants attention. But note, too, that Genya doesn’t have much power when it comes to the Queen. Rather than coming and going like the Grisha, she’s expected to be there whenever the Queen wants her.
Alina casually asks if the Darkling has arrived, and Genya says he arrived yesterday and is probably very busy. After a minute, Genya says they all feel the Darkling’s pull, but he’s not like other Grisha. Genya mischievously admits she’d totally sleep with the Darkling, but she’d never let herself fall in love with him. Just as Genya finishes Alina’s hair, a servant arrives at the door with several boxes. Alina lays the biggest box on the bed and opens it. The kefta inside is black, with the Darkling’s gold symbol at the neck. Alina is nervous; she resents the Darkling for making her stand out, but she’s also excited. She pulls on the kefta and emerges from behind the dressing screen.
Essentially, Genya proposes that the Darkling is fine for a good time, but he’s someone to be wary of. The black kefta helps explain why: the Darkling is controlling, and he always wants to get his way. As Alina notes, she wasn’t asked what color kefta she wanted; now, she has no choice but to wear what the Darkling wants her to. However, she doesn’t see this as overbearing or inappropriate because she’s developing feelings for the Darkling. She’s willing to look past the possible red flags and live in the moment.
With a grin, Genya drags Alina down the hallway and into Zoya’s room. She announces that on the Darkling’s orders, Alina needs to use this room. Zoya pales when she sees Alina’s black kefta, and she leaves the room. Genya admits she only brought Alina in here to see the look on Zoya’s face, but she does steal some of Zoya’s makeup to darken Alina’s lashes. Alina doesn’t look sickly anymore: she looks like a temptress. The girls race back to Alina’s room, where Alina puts on silk slippers and black jewelry. Alina catches a troubled expression on Genya’s face. Hesitantly, Genya warns Alina to be careful of powerful men like the Darkling.
This moment is humorous—it’s satisfying to see Zoya react like this—but it also gives Alina a taste of how the night will go, since she’s wearing black. Recall that black is the Darkling’s color exclusively, so Alina will stand out all night because she’s the only other person in black. Genya’s warning, though, suggests that Alina should think critically about what’s happening here. The Darkling is powerful, and she implies that the Darkling could be manipulating Alina.
Alina asks Genya what happened with the King. Genya explains that the King “has his way” with many servants, and she got jewelry out of the deal. The worst part is that everyone knows. Alina hugs Genya and says the Darkling should’ve protected her, but Genya says he did. And anyway, he’s beholden to the King like the rest of them—at least for now. But, smiling, Genya says they should go drink champagne. Alina follows, leaving “her worries and Genya’s warnings behind.”
Genya reveals that sleeping with the King wasn’t consensual. But even more disturbing is that she insists the Darkling protected her. He put her where he knew she’d be sexually abused, which Alina doesn’t think is actually protective at all. Ominously, though, Alina doesn’t delve further into what this might say about the Darkling.
Downstairs, Alina clings to Genya—she’s going to take advantage of the Darkling’s color to keep her friend beside her. The girls walk with the other Grisha to the Grand Palace, and Alina notices that Heartrenders loosely surround the group. They’re protecting her. In the courtyard, troupes of actors perform for guests. A servant arrives with a note for Genya: the Queen will be attending the ball after all, so Genya must go attend to her. Inside, Alina walks with Marie and Nadia. The palace is filled with flowers and jewels, and guests dance and drink. Over the next hour, Alina meets noblemen and military officers. She recognizes Duke Keramsov—but when she greets him, he clearly doesn’t recognize her. It hurts to be reminded that she was such a forgettable orphan.
At the fete, Alina’s newfound power and her sense that she fits in collide with her past. She enters the fete on top of the world—she’s powerful, she can keep Genya next to her, and she doesn’t mind being conspicuous in her black kefta. However, the fete becomes overwhelming when Alina runs into Duke Keramsov. Alina has many fond memories of Duke Keramsov and of growing up in his care—so it makes her feel terrible to realize that to him, she’s just another orphan. It also suggests that her newfound power and prestige isn’t going to change her past.
Alina grabs a champagne flute and leans against a pillar. She’s hot, upset, and misses Mal. People stare as Genya floats across the room to Alina to say that it’s time to get ready for the demonstration. She leads Alina backstage, where they watch Inferni summon flame and Squallers and Tidemakers create glitter and waves. The Darkling comes up behind Alina, startling her, and the orchestra starts to play ominous music. Ivan appears to whisper something clearly good in the Darkling’s ear, and then the Darkling and Alina take the stage. The Darkling claps his hands, spreading darkness through the room. Then, Alina summons a beam of light and directs it toward a mirror David put on the balcony. The light zigzags through the room, bouncing off of mirrors, and then Alina creates a circle of light around herself and the Darkling.
Readers have already seen Grisha do meaningful military things with their powers, such as propel the sandskiffs and throw flames at the volcra. This demonstration for the nobles, though, perhaps cuts into the idea that the Grisha are an absolutely essential element to Ravka’s military strategy, helping explain why peasants aren’t so enamored with the Grisha. Indeed, this is the King’s party, and in general he seems more interested in beauty and spectacle than in practical things. This party, on the whole, may reflect why the wars in Ravka persist: the King is either not committed or doesn’t care enough.
Finally, Alina claps her hands, flooding the room with light so bright that it blinds the nobles. The crowd cheers wildly as the Darkling pulls Alina off the stage. The Darkling says the people know now that things will change, but Alina asks if it’s not true that she’s not strong enough. Grinning a bit, the Darkling says he’s not done with Alina. Suddenly, he grabs her arm and pulls Alina through the crowd. Alina is anxious: these people think she can save them, and they don’t realize she just does tricks. But her mind is overrun with thoughts of the Darkling as he drags her into the Queen’s sitting room and begins to kiss her.
Note the differences between the Darkling’s attitude and Alina’s: the Darkling is exalted and certain of himself, while Alina remains self-conscious and afraid she’s not good enough. And though Alina trusts the Darkling and reciprocates his feelings on some level, she’s also not given any choice in the matter as he leads her away and kisses her. It might be exciting and wanted, but this also highlights how comparatively little power Alina has in this situation.
Alina has never been kissed like this before. She can tell the Darkling wants her, but she also senses anger. Pulling away, Alina asks if he wants this. The Darkling says he does, but Alina can tell he hates that he wants it. Kissing her neck, the Darkling growls that Ivan brought news that his men found Morozova’s herd. He should be meeting with them in the war room, but he’s not. The problem with wanting, he says, is that wanting makes people weak. With this, he kisses her. It’s angry, but Alina doesn’t care. His touch still gives her that feeling of surety and power. She forgets Genya’s warnings and the Darkling’s confusing behavior; the Darkling was right about her and the stag.
Even though Alina feels mostly sure of herself, this remains a confusing kiss. The Darkling is angry and more powerful than Alina, but he suggests that he’s more relatable when he says his desire for Alina makes him weak. And notice how, as the Darkling kisses her, Alina is able to let go of all her doubts and concerns—and Genya’s warnings. She fully believes in the Darkling, at least when she’s physically close to him. But Genya’s warning still implied that Alina shouldn’t let her guard down, as she’s doing now.
As the Darkling grabs Alina’s thigh, drunk people slam into the door and continue down the hall. The Darkling pulls away. He says he must go, and Alina flushes with embarrassment: Ana Kuya would say she’s no better than a peasant girl with her skirts pulled up. The Darkling asks if he can come to Alina’s room later, but Alina is too slow to answer. He leaves her alone and a few minutes later, Alina leaves the room to return to the party. She avoids the Apparat, who tries to grab her and tell her, cryptically, that things are moving too quickly. Alina meets more nobles and then speaks briefly with Fedyor, the Corporalki who saved her on her way to Os Alta.
Almost immediately after the Darkling leaves her alone, Alina begins to regret her actions—she’s been raised to believe that kissing the Darkling like she did is uncouth and low-class, and she’s been trained to avoid behaviors that others would associate with poverty. That Alina doesn’t immediately invite the Darkling to visit her later highlights how conflicted she is. On some level she is, perhaps, thinking of Genya’s warning—but this doesn’t necessarily take away from how exciting the kiss was for her.
After an hour, Alina leaves the party. She wonders what it will mean if the Darkling comes tonight. He’s probably not in love with her, but it’s nice to be wanted. Shaking her head, Alina tells herself to focus on the stag—but all she can think about is the Darkling’s kiss. Finally, she enters the Little Palace. When she sees the Darkling’s doors open, she hides, not wanting to see the Darkling. But soldiers come out the doors—and one of them is Mal. Alina races to him and throws her arms around him, and he tells the soldiers to go ahead.
Alina’s thought process as she considers the Darkling’s potential visit shows how badly she wants to fit in and be important. She’s trying to tell herself that it’s not a big deal if love doesn’t enter into this relationship; the whole point is to feel like she’s supposed to be here and like people want her to be here. But once again, Alina can’t escape her past: Mal’s arrival suggests she’ll have to try to reconcile her growing feelings for the Darkling with her previous love for Mal.
Mal pulls Alina’s arms away and says he came to report to Alina’s “master”; he’s the one tracking Morozova’s stag. Alina’s happiness disappears as Mal’s anger becomes apparent. They argue about Alina’s letters—Mal says he never got them. He seems weary and different somehow; there’s a new scar on his jaw. Alina begs him to stay longer, but Mal refuses. He says he saw Alina’s demonstration. Nobody knew what happened to her or whether she was being tortured, and then he discovers she’s living like a princess. Alina asks what happened to Mal and puts a hand on his face. She traces the scar and says that Genya could fix it, but he hisses that he’s fine.
Neither Alina nor Mal have had all the information they wanted about the other, and now this leads to misunderstandings and an argument. From the outside, it looks like Alina has been living in luxury; Mal has no idea how out of place she has felt. And Alina can tell that Mal has been through a lot and has suffered, but it highlights their differences when Mal reacts so emotionally to the offer to “fix” the scar. His reaction could suggest that he shares many others’ distrust of Grisha.
Mal asks if Alina is happy here, with the Darkling—it’s clear to him that the Darkling “owns” Alina. He stares at the Darkling’s symbol at the neckline of Alina’s kefta. Alina insists it’s not like that, but it feels like Mal can see right into her mind and see all her dreams about the Darkling. But what right does he have to judge? Mal says again that the Darkling owns Alina, but Alina says the Darkling owns all of them—even Mal. Mal turns and strides away. Alina doesn’t run after him, for the first time in her life.
Mal seems to be speaking without thinking, but he unwittingly highlights the disturbing symbolism of Alina’s black kefta. Other kefta signify what a Grisha can do, but Alina’s black kefta indicates that she belongs to the Darkling, since black is his color exclusively. The insistence that they all belong to the Darkling is also something to keep in mind for later, when this statement becomes particularly prescient.